ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Lawyer accuses state of lying in suit against former Iron Waffle owner

Attorney Richard Dahl, who represents the previous operator of Iron Waffle Coffee Co., delivered a scathing rebuke of the Minnesota Department of Health, its counsel from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the judicial system itself during oral arguments in the virtual hearing in Ramsey County District Court.

Richard Dahl at podium
Attorney Richard Dahl, seen here at a September 2021 event in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dr. Scott Jensen, threatened future criminal prosecution of state health officials during a Wednesday, May 18, 2022, court hearing.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

Accusations of dishonesty and threats of future prosecution of health department officials concluded a court hearing Wednesday, May 18, in the ongoing civil lawsuit stemming from pandemic-related violations against a former Lake Shore coffee shop owner.

Attorney Richard Dahl, who represents the previous operator of Iron Waffle Coffee Co., delivered a scathing rebuke of the Minnesota Department of Health, its counsel from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the judicial system itself during oral arguments in the virtual hearing in Ramsey County District Court.

“They have the guts to call my client a terrible human being or whatever. They attack my client,” Dahl said, his voice raised. “I have had it with you. I have had it with her (Assistant Attorney General Kaitrin Vohs), the state of Minnesota and the judges. … You are out of order, and so is the state.”

Wednesday’s hearing centered on the state’s motion seeking summary judgment in its favor . The state argued the fact the establishment continued operating for months without its food and beverage license was not in dispute. In front of Judge Laura Nelson, Assistant Attorney General Kaitrin Vohs reiterated the state’s view on the scope of the case.

“This proceeding concerns the … unauthorized operation of a food and beverage establishment without a license,” Vohs said. “ … Ultimately, this proceeding is not about why the defendant does not have a license and it’s not about the decision to revoke the license.”

ADVERTISEMENT

More Iron Waffle coverage
In seeking the judgment in its favor to avoid a trial, the health department stated the fact the establishment continued opening its doors without the license was not in dispute.

Vohs said COVID-19 posed an imminent threat to public health at the time of the state’s initial 2020 sanctions against the Iron Waffle, marked by overwhelmed hospitals and no vaccines available. But proving the threat of irreparable harm from the defendant’s actions linked to the pandemic wasn’t a necessary part of the state’s case, she argued.

“Even if this case did not concern COVID or the violation of executive orders, operating without a license is a threat to public health,” Vohs said, adding a food and beverage license is an assurance to customers that a restaurant serving them is compliant with health and safety rules.

As part of its most recent motion, the health department proposed a permanent injunction preventing the defendant, “as well as their successor, agents, employees, and other persons working in active concert or participation with them who receive actual notice,” from operating the business without first obtaining a license. The motion also requests the court require payment of the $9,500 administrative penalty first issued in September 2020 and allow the health department to recover litigation costs and expenses.

Stacy Stranne, who was the owner at the time of the violations, is no longer operating the business. A health department spokesperson confirmed the issuance of a new food and beverage license to S and S Waffle and Coffee LLC, a Pillager-based company that filed as a Minnesota business Feb. 1.

Dahl — who interrupted Vohs early in her argument, prompting Nelson to remind the attorney he would have a turn soon — accused the state of lying to the court in its pursuit of consequences for Stranne.

“They spit on the Constitution and they spit on the laws of the state of Minnesota,” Dahl said. “ … If I was the attorney general, I would criminally prosecute every one of them involved.”

He argued the health department overstated the risk of COVID-19 from the start, setting up a faulty basis for any penalties assessed against businesses defying Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders placing limits on operations and requiring the wearing of masks. And he continued to restate his argument — previously rejected on multiple occasions by the district court as unrelated to the proceedings — that the health department lacked authority to revoke food and beverage licenses as an emergency management response.

Dahl also indicated he may work for the attorney general’s office in the future, should a Republican be elected in November.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I may be prosecuting you,” he said. “ … I’m not done with you.”

At this statement, Nelson interrupted Dahl and told him to return to his arguments related to the case. When Dahl concluded, Vohs said she had nothing else to add and Nelson said she would take the arguments under advisement and issue a ruling at a later date.

The lawsuit — first initiated in December 2020 — was the next step at the time after months of inspections, fines and other administrative actions failed to prevent the business from disobeying pandemic-driven executive orders concerning mask usage and indoor dining restrictions while continuing to operate. The health department revoked Stranne’s food and beverage license after she failed to correct the violations or challenge the revocation in an administrative hearing.

Judges presiding over the case granted the state’s motions for both a temporary injunction and a June 2021 contempt of court finding for Stranne continuing to open and sell food and beverages, despite not having a license. Thus far, the business faces $120,000 in fines — $2,000 for each day the health department documented the Iron Waffle was open after the license revocation.

Dahl filed an appeal, arguing the health department failed to properly notify Stranne of the license revocation, which took away her opportunity to contest the action through an administrative hearing. He also argued the health department lacked authority.

The state countered those arguments, stating the basis of the suit was Iron Waffle’s operation without a license, not the grounds for the revocation.

In late February, the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected Dahl’s arguments accusing the Ramsey County District Court of abusing its discretion and upheld the rulings. Dahl has since filed a petition of certiorari with the Minnesota Supreme Court, seeking a review of the lower court decisions. The state’s top court has yet to say whether it will take up Dahl’s appeal.

Dahl attempted to request a stay in the district court proceedings pending the Supreme Court’s review, but the hearing went on as scheduled Wednesday.

ADVERTISEMENT

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
What to read next
The award recognizes the efforts of an individual, couple, family, or an organization who have significantly contributed to the field of philanthropy.
The event will be held in person for the first time since 2019. Night Under the Stars benefits campers with disabilities, medical conditions and other identified needs.
Bees are like you and me — they need food and water to live.
Joseph Matthew Johnson, a Brainerd native who has been missing for seven months, had his boat wash ashore in the Azores Islands June 21.